Keeping the faith

Not for the first time I feel like Job in the Bible asking ‘why’ in the midst of despair.

Some time ago I mentioned to a therapist that I often wondered ‘why me?’ during my painful struggles and she said that when she said the same many years ago people in her circle used to respond ‘why not you?’ There is a bitter truth in that. We cry out from the depths of our hearts. Our pain feels so deeply personal. So much so that God/the Universe must have done this to us. Like Job, we feel wronged. We know we’ve always tried our best, or even if we haven’t, we’ve made up for it somehow. So why did this terrible event/situation/tragedy occur? No one has or ever will have an answer to that beyond that suffering is a given and no one is spared. It’s just that some people seem destined to suffer much more or less and the only way forward is to somehow trust that it’s all unfolding how it’s meant to be because otherwise it would be different than it is.

Yesterday I heard that my son is being evicted from his residential home. I knew how much the staff were struggling with him but somehow I never thought this would actually be the outcome. I feel bone-crushingly sad. I have no idea where he will go now. It could have been such a lovely home for him. Those are the words I seem to constantly repeat in relation to my son: could have been. I pulled out all the stops to try and make things easier for him so that his behaviour may improve but it hasn’t worked. I know there is a lot of hurt in those words. I feel affronted that none of it made any difference. It’s a deep-seated wound that nothing I’ve done has made a difference to my son but I know that isn’t true. It springs from my sadness that I wish life had been different for both of us. And I know if I hadn’t become so sick/hospitalised and that if my ex wasn’t the way he is, things certainly would be very different now.

And therein lies my struggle. It drags me down like a lead weight until I feel I have no strength to fight. Giving in feels too much, too painful. So I frantically search for a way out, considering all the addictive tendencies I’ve had in the past as a way to escape unbearable feelings, but not able to bring myself to go there because I’m too aware, too conscious of my actions and their consequences now. I’m left with raw pain that isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. I can’t cry either so I’m just staring listlessly into space and waiting for someone to ring me – my son’s social worker, the home, a family member – so I don’t feel so desperately alone with it all. At the moment it seems the social worker will call tomorrow. I don’t yet know the way forward.

I’m remembering a scene from the movie ‘The Shack’ (wonderful movie, btw) where the guy is in a boat which is breaking up, a metaphor for his terrible pain and struggle over the abduction and murder of his young daughter, and Jesus walks up to the boat, on the water, telling him to ‘have faith’ and ‘look at me’ because each time the guy focused on his suffering, the boat broke apart more and water poured in. Eventually, the guy found his faith and climbed out of the boat onto the water with Jesus, finding himself able to walk back to the shore. This is a natural re-telling of the Bible story where Jesus told his disciples to have faith. I don’t believe the walking on water was literal, although who knows it may have been, but a metaphor for our ability to overcome our emotional pain when we keep the faith in something bigger than ourselves, whether that’s God, the Universe, or our own soul/higher/Christ self.

The Bible is all about faith in the midst of terrible suffering, as well as the human need to cry out and ask ‘why’ when we are hurting. Whilst there’s never any clear answers to why we suffer, what’s certain is no one is alone, and while life is desperately hard sometimes, with faith we find the strength to keep moving forward.

Fear, love, guilt: Tomorrow’s visit

I’m visiting my son again tomorrow and my anxiety about it is through the roof. I’m not scared of him, I’m scared of his suffering. I’m scared of seeing him hurting because he’s missing his dad, and not understanding the practical issues that his dad has not taken care of. He doesn’t know the details, all his knows is that his dad has not visited and that he is unable to do certain things that he used to. He doesn’t know his dad has failed him. In some ways that feels even more heartbreaking.

I’m no stranger to suffering. I watched my father die of cancer and all I felt was love. I had no fear because in that moment I allowed everything to be as it was. I felt great empathy for his pain but I was not afraid. I knew what was coming and so did he. I sat with him until the very end and surrendered to the love that was guiding his journey home.

My son’s suffering frightens me. I feel a raw, primal instinct to protect him from hurt, but I know that’s impossible. His vulnerability and lack of comprehension increases my desire to keep him safe always. I also know that my fear of his suffering is probably tied up in a large amount of guilt. It’s displaced because I’ve never let him down – I’ve always done my best for him under difficult circumstances – again, always. But somehow the guilt is still there, probably linked to my grief around parenthood in general, that I was sick and unable to be the kind of parent I wanted, and that my son, due to his needs, wasn’t able to be the child I wanted either. My self-image is clouded in guilt and sadness and a sense that I have failed.

Maybe the fear of my son’s suffering is not only because I fear the pain that comes with knowing he is hurt, but fear that it will break me as a mother because I didn’t have the relationship I wanted with him and his pain presses on that wound. His pain will force me to come face to face with myself as his parent without running from those feelings. I will have to sit with them and learn. Relationships are our greatest spiritual teachers after all. They are our mirrors, showing us where love is most needed.

Unconditional love goes beyond images and labels but leaves out nothing. It embraces fear, pain and grief. This isn’t about trying not to feel scared or pretending I don’t feel guilty. It’s allowing all those feelings to be there and giving them to the light. It’s being with the reality of the situation, which is that it is hard, and all sorts of issues are activated, including my own abandonment wounds. I can only do my best in any given moment and leave the rest to the Divine light/the universe to take care of. That’s what I’ve always done for my son and will continue to do, no matter how scared I am.

‘Love is the only answer’ Matt Kahn

I was wondering where to start and then I thought where better than love?

Matt Kahn is one of my favourite spiritual teachers at this point in my journey. His philosophy is that whatever we are feeling, thinking, or dealing with – we love that. Sounds simple but it’s very, very hard to remember and put into practice, as I have personally found.

As humans we are hardwired to want to avoid pain and seek pleasure. Well, of course we are. Who would want pain (unless they’re a masochist)? Avoiding it ensures our survival as a species. Plus no one wants to feel bad. I have several chronic illnesses and HATE feeling unwell and limited. We often don’t like emotions such as anger and jealousy and consider them negative and unspiritual, coming from the ego rather than the spark of Divinity that we are. We may try to stuff them down and focus more on so-called positive emotions such as happiness and joy. That’s natural.

The problem may arise when we resist aspects of our experience so much that we create more suffering for ourselves. We may feel angry or jealous and get upset with ourselves for feeling that way, thereby adding another layer of suffering on top of the feelings we are already experiencing. In my case, struggling with feeling exhausted and unwell and wishing I was healthy creates resistance and more suffering. But lofty spiritual ideals such as ‘accepting everything that happens’ don’t really work for me either. Do we really have to accept everything? Really??

Matt Kahn’s answer to this is to love. If we are feeling angry, notice it and love the part of us that is angry. If we are in physical pain, love the part of us that is hurting or, if that is impossible, love the part of us that can’t love the part that is hurting. The answer is always love. I don’t have to accept my illnesses but I can love the part of me who cannot accept them. I don’t have to accept the suffering in the world but I can love the part of me who cannot accept it. This works because the relationship with ourselves is reflected out into the world and vice versa. When we love the supposedly unlovable parts of ourselves we set them free. Not only does this bring us to greater internal peace, it is the key to a more peaceful world.